Meditations in Malachi : 35. Distinction
Mal 3:18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not
Our modern world doesn’t like distinctions because distinctions often lead to prejudicial actions, negative actions by one group on another. So we have laws making it illegal to distinguish between people in the work place, a place particularly prone to such actions; equality is all-important. Yet in other ways our societies rejoice in distinctions. We have ‘celebrities’, people who for one reason or another the media have crowned super-people. It may be that they are sports people, it may be they are musicians or actors or comedians but they have been elevated above the rest of us, and mostly we like it; we like to know how the other half live. But at the mundane every day life level, we don’t like distinctions, the thought that you might be ‘better’ than me.
However, when we come to the Bible we see time and again, God DOES make distinctions and it is between “the righteous and the wicked”. If we are not clear what that means, the prophet expands it: “those who serve God and those who do not.” So if you think of all the people you know, maybe people who live in your street, people you work with or go to college with perhaps, we don’t like to call them ‘wicked’ because that has connotations of real evil, but the Bible isn’t as misguidedly generous, because the indication is that ANYONE who has not got a living relationship with the Lord is ‘wicked’. Sin and evil go together. We aren’t too happy talking about sin in our modern world and we only like to talk about evil when it is clearly something horrible and bad, sin is sin and sin is evil.
Let me give an illustration. There is a big banquet laid on for the great and the glorious and evening wear is required. As we watch people arrive a man appears who is covered in mud from head to toe; he has fallen into a utterly mucky pig sty. He looks and smells terrible. then along comes another man and he is lightly splattered with muck. he was obviously standing by the sty when the other fell in and caught the spray! Now imagine the two men trying to enter the banquet and sit down next to someone dressed in pristine clothing that is utterly spotless. Yes the man covered with mud will be violently rejected because it is so obvious, but actually after a minute or two so will the other man because although he’s hardly got anything on him, he has gone something – and that smells! You see sin is sin; there may be lots of it that is violently obvious, or there may be little of it that is not so obvious, but it is still sin – and it still excludes from the banquet! There is a distinction between those who are utterly clean and those who are not.
Now in everyday life this distinction is not so obvious because ‘lightly splattered’ people so often make up for it by trying to appear good in many other ways. Moreover those of us who would consider ourselves righteous find, to our horror, when we have the courage to be honest, that in fact we are still ‘splattered’! No, this distinction is not based upon individual good or bad acts, but one act that has either occurred or not occurred in your life – the act of surrendering to God through Jesus Christ and being given a new life to lead that is empowered by His Spirit. This does mean INSTANT change but NOT TOTAL change at that moment of new birth. So some things instantly change but other things take time to change – maybe a whole lifetime. The distinction therefore is between those who have a surrendered relationship with the Lord whereby they seek to serve HIM, and the person who has never come to God and surrendered their life for forgiveness and cleansing, and who therefore serve ONLY THEMSELVES. In God’s eyes there IS that clear distinction.
Thus, when these people in Malachi’s day hear God’s word and repent and turn back to God with whole hearts, their lives will reflect what has happened, and the distinction between them and the people who carry on unchanged, WILL become obvious. There is also a distinction going to be made on the last day – either when they die or when God winds up this world and all stand before Him. We previously referred to two parables that Jesus told, the parable of the weeds (Mt13:24-30, 36-43) and the parable of the fish (Mt13:47-50). In both of those parables, at the end, there is a separating out. That distinction sometimes isn’t clearly made this side of death but it WILL be afterwards!